Climate Feedback

Review of The Hot Topic: The road well travelled

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On Nature Reports Climate Change , Gywn Prins of the LSE has reviewed The Hot Topic by science writer (and once climate change editor at Nature) Gabrielle Walker and former UK chief science advisor Sir David King.

The book has with the odd exception, received mostly favourable – and a few oustanding reviews – namely Chris Mooney’s for New Scientist and Dave Reay’s in the March 6 issue of Nature.

Indeed, Reay compares it Rachel Carson’s celebrated Silent Spring in its ability to engage millions and commends its even-handed coverage of the ‘climate debate’. Reay writes:

The Hot Topic has an authoritative clarity that scythes through the junk science and brushes aside the brigades of doom-mongers and overly earnest environmentalists.

Over on The Intersection Chris Mooney refers to it as “the best global warming book I’ve ever read”, and has a similar stance to Reay. Of Walker and King, he writes:

Their overview of the science and policy of climate change is a model of clarity, comprehensiveness and, above all, sanity. It truly does find a middle ground in the climate debate.

On the contrary, Prins (who authored a Commentary in Nature last year with Steve Rayner calling for a radical alternative to the Kyoto Protocol) argues that the book is both “troubling” and “relentlessly normative” in that it represents “an unquestioning acceptance of the received wisdom”.

Prins is especially disgruntled with how Walker and King, in his view, polarize perspectives on the way forward on climate policy:

[They] have no scintilla of doubt that the Kyoto Protocol is the road to follow and that anyone who deserts it is wrong and possibly corrupt. So we have as heroes the EU, which doesn’t “duck” the problem, and as villains the US, languishing under the rule of “President Bush and his fiercely partisan advisers”. They lump all “sceptics” — anyone who disagrees with them — together like the damned in a Hieronymus Bosch painting of heaven and hell.

He then compares The Hot Topic to Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist (albeit at the other end of the polemical spectrum) in it’s treatment of uncongenial information, essentially making the point that the authors choose their supporting arguments carefully and disregard the rest.

The bottom line, though, is a fundamental difference of opinion on whether we should stick with the Kyoto Protocol (in spite of its imperfections) and place our hopes on achieving an effective international climate deal in Copenhagen in 2009, or we should carve out an alternative “route from damnation to salvation”. Whereas Walker and King believe that Copenhagen in 2009 is “the last chance saloon” for acting on climate change, Prins clearly favours the latter approach, which he argues is already underway as four major powers – China, Japan, India and the US – begin to steer global climate policy away from the ‘Bali roadmap’.

This is the same debate that is being played out on a global scale following the climate change talks that were held in Japan over the weekend. While Europe wants bindings emissions targets, Japan, like Prins, is calling for an approach that focuses on reigning in emissions from key industrial sectors.

That’s it on the reviews for now. For the view from the other side, Walker joined me recently on Nature‘s climate podcast to give me the low-down on what she thinks will make – or break – a global climate deal. You can tune in here.

Olive Heffernan


  1. Report this comment

    Gunter Hauptspeisen said:

    Ouch. Nothing quite like undercutting your own invited reviewer. Of course, Mike Hulme offers a view not unlike Prof. Prins:


    Here at Climate Feedback why can you not simply present different views and allow your readers to decide who has the better argument? Do you really have to to tilt the prsentation in one direction so very obviously?

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